Eighteen players made it to the CNMI Women’s National Team that will be competing in the EAFF E-1 Women’s Preliminary Round 1 in Ulan Bator, Mongolia next month.
The selection includes Emalyn Aniana, Guinevere Borja, Sharmaine Francisco, Jerlyn and Jeralyn Castillo, Gillian Villagomez, Gabrielle Race, Gianna Griffin, Emiliana King, Britany Wally, Janelle Chojnacki, Carla Ballesteros, Krizel Tuazon, Therize Millare, Katrina Costales, Grace Choi, Pauylynn Joyce, and Sue Ann Huevos. Olympian Luem Khen Koo will call the shots for the squad, while other team officials will be announced this weekend in a send-off ceremony for the group.
Majority of the members of the team have suited up for the CNMI national squad (youth and women’s) and are on island, while King is the lone Tinian player selected on the squad. Griffin, on the other hand, is the only player who has yet to meet the group, as she is based in the mainland and will join her teammates in Mongolia. Race is also based in the mainland, but arrived on Saipan last month to attend the team’s training sessions and don the colors of the CNMI anew.
“It is always an honor to represent the CNMI. After moving to California for college, I was not sure if I would have another opportunity to play soccer for the national team again, so I’m thankful for being able to play in this tournament,” Race said.
“It feels great to be home and play with the national team. The girls and the coaches have always felt like a second family to me so I’m glad to be back. I am hoping to add my past EAFF and college soccer experience to the women’s team. We have a young team this year with a lot of potential, but I think some of the girls need a little more confidence and I’m hoping to help them find it,” added Race, who plays for Saddleback College in the California Community College Athletics Association.
Borja and Villagomez, who teamed up with Race in the same competition in 2016, are also honored to have another chance to represent the CNMI.
“As a member of the CNMI women’s national team, soccer is one of the few constants in my life. No matter how much I play, the feeling I get while playing is incomparable to any other—it’s as if I was born to play the beautiful game. The satisfaction of knowing I’m representing my island while doing something I love is amazing. Soccer is something I will never get tired of. And it’s not always a walk in the park, but all the blood, sweat, and tears are worth it once we are on the pitch, playing for the CNMI,” Borja said.
Villagomez seconded her teammate, adding that though a lot of hard work and dedication are required to be on the team, they are all worth it, especially for her, as she wants to play for the Commonwealth before she leaves Saipan for college.
“It is truly a great feeling and an amazing opportunity to be able to represent the CNMI once again in an off-island tournament, considering it’ll be one of my last for now before I graduate and head off for college. There’s just something about representing our island that makes me feel proud,” the Saipan International School student said.
“Training to become one of the selected 18 players was a tough, tough battle. We began to have training 6 times a week, 2-3 hours a day. I was injured a little over a month ago before the everyday training, which I knew was an important part to get the team ready and fit for the tournament in Mongolia. In my head I kept telling myself to take care my injury, heal as fast as possible and then train to the best of my ability and more once I got back. Everyone push and support each other during training. Thanks to all the coaches and the support from all of my teammates, I was able to secure a spot on the team,” she added.
The CNMI squad will be playing the host, Guam, and Macau in the qualifier and EAFF returnee Tuazon wants to make it a personal mission to beat Macau.
“For my third appearance in the EAFF tournament, I would love to accomplish one thing—which is to beat Macau, again. I think the girls would love that as well. In some meetings we had, we would talk about how we fell short versus Macau two years ago and I don’t want to repeat history,” said Tuazon.
Before the tournament in Mongolia, 14 members of the squad will go to Japan for a training camp, while the rest of the team will be in Ulan Bator by Sept. 29, as the women’s competition will run from Sept. 2 to 7.